Serious Men: A Novel

by Manu Joseph | Literature & Fiction | This book has not been rated.
ISBN: 0393338592 Global Overview for this book
Registered by lonerunner of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania USA on 12/6/2010
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Journal Entry 1 by lonerunner from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania USA on Monday, December 06, 2010
Manu Joseph's novel is unique in my experience of Indian novels because it addresses the rigid caste system with both humor and seriousness.

Ayyan Mani is a Dalit working as a personal assistant to the famous scientist Arvind Acharya in the Institute of Theory and Research. This is a place where men of privilege, Brahmins, perform government funded research. However, it becomes obvious that what these men do at this institute is meaningless to most of the population and nothing actually gets accomplished; a bunch of self-important men spend their lives in comically pointless conversation while looking over their shoulders at the others. Meanwhile, Ayyan Mani, a very bright man living in poverty and bored out of his mind, develops cunning ways of knowing all that is going on and uses it all to his advantage.

Mani harbors a deep resentment of the Brahmin culture and finds ways to exact revenge. He dares to involve his son, Adi, in a hoax where he is able to convince everyone that Adi is a remarkable child prodigy, a genius. The press helps a lot, which is part of the comedy, though I did worry a bit about Adi and how this would affect him.

Another storyline in the novel involves a power struggle at the institute between Arvind Acharya and old rival Jana Nambodri. Acharya is more richly drawn than any other character in the book, and I think he is also the most likable. After Acharya is ousted in a most unpleasant and unfair way, it is the cunning of Mani that restores him to his former glory. However, this is achieved by working together: Mani negiotiates with Acharya, and they strike a deal. And, in the end, things are exactly as they were in the beginning of the novel. Mani has succeeded in entertaining his poor, bored family by achieving their fifteen minutes of fame. More importantly, though, he has exposed Nambodri and his staff as bigots and restored the better man's career.

Ayyan Mani, the real genius, gets nothing more, which is sad and, I suppose, part of the message here.

I found Joseph's writing style to be quite pleasant, though it took me awhile to get into this novel, and I don't feel that I got to know Ayyan Mani all that well, or not nearly as well as I did Arvind Acharya. That bothered me a little, but that is just my side note. This is a good social satire.

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